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3 Ways Gen Xers Are the Key to Leading Millennials

Sheryl sandbergOdds are that if you manage a business unit or a large team of employees, you’re part of the group of 74.9 million Baby Boomers. This year, for the first time in your life, your generation will no longer be the largest demographic group in the United States.

Millennials now number 75.3 million, according to the Census Bureau, and due to immigration are projected to increase to 81.1 million by 2036. Although demographers differ on the birth range of Millennials (also known as Generation Y), most fall between 1981 and 2000, which means that the oldest are 34 and the majority are in their 20s.

Millennials have a profoundly different approach to the way they find, use and share information—both socially and at work. They don’t read newspapers, watch TV news shows or use the yellow pages. They read—a lot—but it’s not likely to be on printed paper. They’re great networkers, but the majority of their conversations take place electronically rather than face-to-face or by phone. Many find the constraints of working regular office hours—from the office—burdensome and old fashioned. But that doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to work long hours.

Between the buzz about retiring Baby Boomers and the emerging influence of Millennials, Generation X seems all but forgotten in contemporary media coverage. Though smaller in numbers (the Census Bureau projects that the Gen X population will peak at 65.8 million in 2018), 40-something-year-old Gen Xers are currently transitioning into senior leadership roles throughout the workforce. Over the next decade Gen Xers will also become the largest client demographic for most CPA firms.

In many cases, Gen Xers may be the key to helping organizations connect with and lead Millennial staff. Here are three reasons why:

1)      They’re skilled at using the Internet and social media to research and connect, but are equally adept at networking face-to-face to obtain critical info and meet others. Unlike Millennials, Gen Xers remember life before the Internet and social media. They grew up in a pre-Internet era and transitioned to the information age in early adulthood. They saw the dot-com bubble swell and burst in 2001. They’re avid social media users, but they also understand the value of a face-to-face meeting, a business card, a handwritten card or note and a phone call. Although the rapidly changing landscape of social media poses challenges for anyone, Gen Xers are well positioned to navigate its nuances and also realize its limitations for reaching Baby Boomers, who will continue to represent a large percentage of CPA clients for the next 20 years.

2)      They’re capable of managing across geographical locations, both virtually and in-person. As managers, most Gen Xers are comfortable supervising employees who have alternative work arrangements such as flexible work hours and telecommuting. They’ve seen both the advantages and disadvantages of having employees offsite and know that certain positions and people are better suited to such arrangements than others.

3)      They demonstrate independence and self-assurance to lead with confidence. In the 1980s, as Gen Xers navigated elementary and middle school, many saw their mothers enter and stake a claim in the workforce -- either as sole breadwinners in a single-parent home, or as contributors to the family’s income. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Xers are savvy, skeptical and self-reliant. Additionally, Gen Xers represent the last of America’s latchkey children, who came home from school to an empty house. They learned self-reliance and self-discipline at an early age, often taking responsibility for preparing meals and getting homework done without adult supervision. Gen Xers understand how individual action is critical to running an operation smoothly and can help others maximize their own individual contributions for the greater good.

Whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial, there’s no denying the demographic challenges facing the accounting profession.

To help CPA firms navigate the changing business environment, AICPA’s Private Company Practice Section (PCPS) developed the PCPS Firm inMotion e-Toolkit. The toolkit is broken down into five trend areas including firm structure and strategy, staff development and culture, clients and relationship building, and use of technology. Each area is carefully designed to help you and your colleagues explore what's on the horizon and how to prepare your firm for a successful journey.

The Staff Development & Culture section’s Why Transition Guide contains information on the differences between generations and solutions for bridging the gaps.

In addition, CGMA designation holders might find the CGMA® fast track to leadership report or the how to develop a strong and interdependent team tool useful.

Donna W. Salter, Senior Manager-Young Member Initiatives, American Institute of CPAs. 

Sheryl Sandberg courtesy of Google Plus.

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